Three Minutes: 'Did I Say'

Teenage Fanclub track dissected...
teenage fanclub.jpg
In a new series, ClashMusic takes an in depth look at tracks which we just can't get out of our heads. The sort of things most people think are insubstantial, but just seem to resonate deeply within us.

First up: Teenage Fanclub - 'Did I Say'.

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Sometimes, you just need to go back.

Taken from the singles compilation ‘Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty Six Seconds’, ‘Did I Say’ was an unreleased Teenage Fanclub track pegged on at the end. While most groups use this as a tease to lure fans into parting money for material they already own, the always-dependable Teenage Fanclub had other ideas. Adding three bonus tracks, the Scottish band’s three main songwriters supplied one deftly written song after another.
Written by Norman Blake, ‘Did I Say’ is nothing too substantial. The repeated ‘Hey, did I say’ line gives a sense of unity, with the entire song being done and dusted in a little over two minutes. Yet somewhere within those lyrics, the sighing harmonies and driving arrangement is something truly magical.

The appeal of Teenage Fanclub has always lain in their classicism. While this has sometimes allowed critics to peg them as retro, the group come into their own as stylists. The West Coast harmonies of ‘Did I Say’ are perfectly placed for a song of such tender longing, echoing the song’s attempt to reclaim the past. Sure, it’s nothing groundbreaking but the use of a classic song format is like a pillow to rest your head on, a support when the ground is falling away.

Opening with the wish to ‘go home’ the track is a continual quest for a sense of identity. The world is a dark place, say Teenage Fanclub, while you and me are the only certainties we have. So far, so clichéd, but in their hands the message becomes truly transcendent. The journey back through time becomes a point of inspiration which, when taken within the context of a ‘Best Of’ represents a moment of rare self-doubt from the ever consistent group.

The symbolism of dark / light divides real life and memory, the present from the past. Childhood becomes idealised, cleansed of the problems which each of us face everyday. The journey is something we must undertake, driven not by nostalgia but because we are compelled to understand something about ourselves. The movement from dark to light crosses the sea, the uncontrollable forces of fate that lash out at our lives. It’s tempting to see the two lovers travelling from island to island, that happiness is fleeting and our only defence is to find love. Norman Blake sings of his lover finding ‘the lake where you learned how to swim’ with the central message being an attempt to find peace, control over the currents which underpin your life. ‘In the morning of dawn’ becomes a return to childhood, to the very root or start point of a journey that has moved too far from home.

A sense of rejuvenation, of finding a renewed sense of inspiration runs through ’Did I Say’. It’s difficult not to be drawn in, since the un-named ‘You’ could well be the listener, or the rest of the band. The tenderness of the vocal is matched by the lyrics, with Norman Blake revealing ‘I smiled when I first heard your name’. A love lyric without lust, stripping back the clichés to find something personal - anyway, how many people in standard love songs really smile?

Yet beneath this there is another, darker interpretation: the journey isn’t one of rejuvenation but death, the return to a point of peace, across the night and the sea – two common symbols of the after life. The two lovers are inseparable even in death, waiting for one another to return. ‘The light fall away from you’ changes from loss of inspiration to a final parting. However that isn’t to suggest that ‘Did I Say’ is morbid – death is only one interpretation, one divergence. Ultimately the song ends in a transcendent fashion, with art, inspiration and light shining through. The sun beats down on their back ‘in the morning of dawn’ – a moment enshrined in memory yet buoyed by possibility. Finding heaven, even.

Perhaps that is reading a little too much into it. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps Teenage Fanclub needed to pad out their singles collection. Or maybe they really did manage to cover life, death, the transcendent power of art and the unbreakable bond that is love. In two and a half minutes.

Teenage Fanclub - Did I Say


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